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BENGALI CUISINE    
 

 

 

Bengali cuisine is a style of food preparation originating in Bengal, a region in the eastern South Asia which is now divided between the Indian state of West Bengal and the independent country of Bangladesh. Bengali cuisine is well-known for the vast range of rice dishes and various preparations of freshwater fish. Bengali cuisine is rich and varied with the use of many specialized spices and flavours.

Historical influences
Bengali food has inherited a large number of influences, both foreign and South Asian, arising from a turbulent history and strong trade links with many parts of the world. Originally inhabited by Dravidians and other ethnic groups, and later further settled by

Panta Ilish - a tradtional Bengali platter of stale rice (in soup) with fried Hilsa slice, supplemented with dried fish (Shutki), pickles (Achar), dal, green chillies and onion - is a popular serving for the Pohela Boishakh festival in Bangladesh.
Panta Ilish - a tradtional Bengali platter of stale rice (in soup) with fried Hilsa slice, supplemented with dried fish (Shutki), pickles (Achar), dal, green chillies and onion - is a popular serving for the Pohela Boishakh festival in Bangladesh.

 

the Aryans during the Gupta era, Bengal fell under the sway of various Muslim rulers from the early thirteenth century onwards, and was then ruled by the British for two centuries (1757-1947). It also saw a fair share of immigrants from various parts of the world - most promimently Jews, Chinese and Afghans who settled down in their own distinct communities in and around Kolkata.

Every layer of historical influence endures to the present day; the tribals have traditionally abided as hunter-gatherers in the dense forests of the Sunderbans while the rest of Bengal turned heavily agrarian, farming the extremely fertile Ganges delta for rice, vegetables and cash crops such as jute.

From the culinary point of view, some major historical trends influenced Bengali food.

The Influence of the Hindu widows
In medieval Bengal the treatment of Brahmin widows was much more restrictive than was common elsewhere in India. They led very monastic lives within the household and lived under rigid dietary restrictions. They were usually not allowed any interests but religion and housework, so the kitchen was an important part of their lives - thus traditional Bengali home cuisine was deeply influenced by them. Their ingenuity and skill led to many culinary practices; simple spice combinations, the ability to prepare small quantities (since widows often ate alone) and creative use of the simplest of cooking techniques. Since widows were banned 'impassioning' condiments such as onion or garlic, most traditional Bengali recipes don't use them; this is in stark contrast to the rest of the Indian subcontinent where almost every dish calls for onions and garlic. It has led to generous use of ginger in Bengali curries, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Spice combinations tended to be simple, and most expensive ingredients (such as nuts, saffron or cream) were avoided or used very sparingly. The food, however, was anything but simple - preparations were often elaborate to the point of fussiness. It was served with equal elaboration - multiple courses and plenty of formality about what goes with what in what order. This was the traditional food that the Bengali Bhadralok (gentlemen) had at home.

This social structure in Bengal continued until well into the twentieth century; the effect on the cuisine was to preserve many of the dishes and techniques of the old in purest form, isolated from the influence of Mughal or Western methods. In the last few decades, however, widows have become less common and the recipes have moved into the realm of Bengali restaurants around the country.

The Rule of the Nawabs
Bengal (before its partition into eastern and western parts) has been ruled by Muslim rules since the Delhi Sultanate in early 12th century. However, for over five hundred years the center of Muslin rule in Bengal was centered in Dhaka. Trade routes going from Delhi to Dhaka travered the entire width of today's West Bengal but seems to have little influence beyond that. West Bengal came under Muslim influence only when Murshid Quli Khan became the governor of Bengal and moved the capital from Dhaka to the newly founded city of Murshidabad in the late 17th century.

From the culinary point of view, a key influence to the food came much later, when Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Avadh was exlied to Metia Bruz, in the outskirts of Kolkata. He is said to have brought with him hundreds of cooks and masalchis (spice mixers) who, on his death, dissipated into the population, starting restaurants and food carts all over Bengal.

Christianity and other European Influences
The Christian influence came to Bengal a few hundred years after its arrival on the Western borders of India. While the religion propagated in the populace, the region remained isolated from the political and religious centres of Christian India. This meant that people retained many of their local customs and especially food habits. Though the Dutch and the French also had colonies in West Bengal, they have had little impact on Bengal's culinary habits. That came from the British, and other Western immigrants such as the Baghdadi Jews who set up Kolkata's famous Jewish Bakeries. West Bengal's flourishing community of Anglo-Indians formed a once-influential cuisine, but it is now dying along with the reduction in numbers of their communities.

The key culinary influence of the Christian community was the ritual of tea (introduced by the British and now central to Bengali identity), and in Bengal's snack food traditions. Baking, which was pretty much unknown till the British came along, became widespread. The popularity of baked confectionaries was a direct result of the British popularising the celebration of Christmas. The Jewish community, though always tiny in numbers, picked up the trend and made it hugely popular to the masses - now every railway station in West Bengal serves puff pastries to go with tea to millions of commuters across the state. Chops and cutlets, once British in origin but now firmly Bengali, are served every day in every little shack. The pound cake is a treat every kid has grown up stealing. Kolkata's big Jewish bakeries are dead or dying, but their influence is everywhere.

The Rise of Kolkata
Kolkata was founded by the British, and came into prominence as the original capital of British India. The city quickly became one of the largest and richest in the world, completely overshadowing Dhaka. After partition, Kolkata continued to wield an outsize influence in the cultural and food habits of West Bengal. Its offices, ports and bazaars attracted many communities from the rest of India, most notably the Marwari community, millions of whom have made the city their home for three generations. Their influence has been, in particular, in the sweetshops and street foods of Kolkata and West Bengal; many famous sweet shops in the state have Marwari origins.

Partition of Bengal
The partition of India from the British in 1947 separated West Bengal from the present-day Bangladesh, causing a significant change in demographics. The newly formed West Bengal was a small state in India dominated by the mega city of Kolkata, which was already one of the largest cities in the world and accounting for about a quarter of the population of the state. Kolkata naturally came to dominate the food habits of the state. The city was India's richest city until the late seventies, attracting people from all over India and building a cosmopolitan culture that both incorporated influences from the rest of India and propagated many trends outwards. On the other side of the border, Bangladesh was isolated by the international boundary and continued to develop a distinct cuisine of its own. Today, three generations later, Bangladeshi and Kolkata cuisines are quite distinct.

Culinary Influences
Bengali food today has some broad (though not so distinct) variations - Traditional, Mughal, Anglo-Indian and Chinese.

Traditional Bengali cuisine

 

Panta Ilish - a tradtional Bengali platter of stale rice (in soup) with fried Hilsa slice, supplemented with dried fish (Shutki), pickles (Achar), dal, green chillies and onion - is a popular serving for the Pohela Boishakh festival in Bangladesh.The traditional society of Bengal has always been heavily agrarian; hunting, except by some local clans men, was uncommon. The rearing of animals was also not popular. This is reflected in the cuisine, which relies on staples like rice and đal, with little place for game or meat.

A traditional fish meal called, Macher Jhol.
A traditional fish meal called, Macher Jhol.

 


Fish is the dominant kind of meat, cultivated in ponds and fished with nets in the fresh-water rivers of the Ganges delta. More than forty types of mostly freshwater fish are common, including carp varieties like rui (rohu), katla, magur (catfish), chingŗi (prawn or shrimp), as well as shuţki (small dried sea fish). Salt water fish (not sea fish though) Ilish (hilsa ilisha) is very popular among Bengalis, can be called an icon of Bengali cuisine. Almost every part of the fish (except fins and innards) is eaten; the head and other parts are usually used to flavor curries. Khashi (referred to as mutton in Indian English, the meat of sterilized goats) is the most popular red meat.

Other characteristic ingredients of traditional Bengali food include rice, moshur đal (red lentils), mug đal (mung beans), shorsher tel mustard oil, mustard paste, posto (poppyseed) and narkel (ripe coconut). Bengal is also the land of am (mangoes), which are used extensively—ripe, unripe, or in pickles. Ilish machh (hilsa fish), which migrates upstream to breed is a delicacy; the varied salt content at different stages of the journey is of particular interest to the connoisseur, as is the river from which the fish comes - fish from the river Pôdda (Padma or Lower Ganges) in Bangladesh, for example, is traditionally considered the best.To some part of the community, particularly from West Bengal, Gangatic Ilish is considered as the best variety.The pãch phoron spice mixture is very commonly used for vegetables. A touch of gôrom môshla or hot spices (elachi cardamom, darchini cinnamon, lông clove, tej pata bay leaves, and peppercorn) is often used to enliven food.

Another characteristic of Bengali food is the use of a unique cutting instrument, the bothi. (This instrument is also used in Maharashtra, where it is known as vili and in Andhra Pradesh, known as kathi peeta (kathi = knife and peeta = platform) ). It is a long curved blade on a platform held down by foot; both hands are used to hold whatever is being cut and move it against the blade. The method gives excellent control over the cutting process, and can be used to cut anything from tiny shrimp to large pumpkins. Traditional cuisine is very demanding in the kind of cuts of vegetable used in each dish, vegetables cut in the wrong way is often frowned upon. Furthermore, since different vegetables are usually cooked together, the wrongly cut ones could remain raw or become overcooked.

In Bangladesh (formerly East Bengal), the culinary style developed rather independently; it was not greatly influenced by the rest of India and Southeast Asia because of the difficult geography of the Ganges delta. Four characteristics stand out: fresh-water fish, beef(only for Muslims), the extensive use of parboiled rice and mustard oil. Đal is also a staple. Spices are used sparingly, and the methods of preparation are relatively simple - steaming, frying or stewing. Floods are common in the region, so there is an extensive use of root vegetables and dried fish (shuţki). Milk and dairy products, so widely used in the neighboring India, are not as common here; the geography prevents large scale breeding of cows, thus making dairy an expensive indulgence. Notably, hardly any food calls for curd or ghee. However, sweets do contain milk and dairy products as well as jaggery and rice paste.

In western parts of Bengal, more connected with the rest of India and dominated by the megacity of Kolkata since the late eighteenth century, a little different culinary style emerged. The delta is thinner there, with fewer rivers and more open plains. There is significant commerce with the rest of India, leading to a flow of spices, ingredients and techniques. The food is much richer with various spices, the presentations are more elaborate and a significant feature of the cuisine is a vast array of sweets based on milk and sugar - the result of both better supply and the influence of traders from the milk belts of Gujarat and Benares. While fresh-water fish is still common, mutton is more common among the Muslim population than beef and dried fish. Wheat makes its appearance alongside rice, in different types of breads such as luchi, kochuri and pôroţa. Mustard paste is extensively used, and so is mustard oil. There's a greater use of coconut, both in cooking and in desserts.

Prosperity and urbanization also led to the widespread use of professional cooks who introduced complex spice mixtures and more elaborate sauces, along with techniques such as roasting or braising. Also introduced around this time, probably as a consequence of increased urbanization, was a whole new class of snack foods. These snack foods are most often consumed with evening tea. The tea-time ritual was probably inspired by the British, but the snacks bear the stamp of the substantial Marwari population in Kolkata - chaţ, kachori, samosa, phuluri and the ever-popular jhal-muri.

Mughal influence
Islam arrived in Bengal probably around the mid-thirteenth century, coming into force with the penetration of the Muslim rulers from the northwest. Dhaka (the present-day capital of Bangladesh), in particular, expanded greatly under Mughal rule. The partition of India in 1947 resulted in a large migration of people to and from present-day Bangladesh, resulting in a much stronger divide along religious lines. Bangladesh today shows a much greater Muslim influence than West Bengal.

The influence on the food was top-down, and more gradual than in many other parts of India. This led to a unique cuisine where even the common man ate the dishes of the royal court, such as biryani, korma and bhuna. The influence was reinforced in the Raj era, when Kolkata became the place of refuge for many prominent exiled Nawabs, especially the family of Tipu Sultan from Mysore and Wajid Ali Shah, the ousted Nawab of Awadh. The exiles brought with them hundreds of cooks and masalchis (spice mixers), and as their royal patronage and wealth diminished, they interspersed into the local population. These highly accomplished cooks came with the knowledge of a very wide range of spices (most notably jafran saffron and mace), the extensive use of ghee as a method of cooking, and special ways of marinating meats.

In Bangladesh, this food has over time become the staple food of the populace. In West Bengal, however, this has remained more than the other categories, the food of professional chefs; the best examples are still available at restaurants. Specialties include chap (ribs slow cooked on a tawa), rezala (meat in a thin yogurt and cardamom gravy) and the famous kathi roll (kebabs in a wrap). The local population absorbed some of the ingredients and techniques into their daily food, resulting in meat-based varieties of many traditional vegetarian dishes, but by and large the foods remained distinct.

The Mughal influence is most distinct in preparations involving meat especially mutton. However, even chicken and other meats became more prevalent. The influence was also seen in desserts; traditional desserts were based on rice pastes and jaggery but under the Mughal influence moved towards significantly increased use of milk, cream and sugar along with expensive spices such as cardamom and saffron.

Anglo-Indian or Raj cuisine
Anglo-Indian food isn't purely the influence of the British; Bengal was once the home of a French colony, and also hosted populations of Portuguese, Dutch, Armenians and Syrians. These collective western influences are seen in the foods created to satisfy the tastes of the western rulers. The result is a unique cuisine, local ingredients adapted to French and Italian cooking techniques—characterized by creamy sauces, the restrained use of spices and new techniques such as baking. English and Jewish bakers such as Flury's and Nahoum's dominated the confectionery industry which migrated from British tables to everyday Bengali ones, resulting in unique creations such as the pêţis (savory turnovers, from the English "pasty"). Another enduring contribution to Bengali cuisine is pau ruţi, or Western-style bread. Raj-era cuisine lives on especially in the variety of finger foods popularized in the 'pucca' clubs of Kolkata, such as mutton chop, kabiraji cutlet or fish orly.

The British also influenced food in a somewhat different way. Many British families in India hired local cooks, and through them discovered local foods. The foods had to be toned down or modified to suit the tastes of the 'memsahibs'. The most distinct influence is seen in the desserts, many of which were created specifically to satisfy the British - most notably the very popular sweet leđikeni named after the first Vicereine Lady Canning; it is a derivative of the pantua created for an event hosted by her.

Chinese food
The Chinese of Kolkata originally settled into a village called Achipur south of Kolkata in the late 18th century, later moving into the city and finally into its present home in Tangra at the eastern edge of Kolkata, which still houses over 100,000 ethnic Chinese[citation needed]. No other part of the Indian subcontinent has any significant Chinese population. The Chinese of Kolkata form a substantial and successful community with a distinct identity. With this identity came Chinese food, available at almost every street corner in Kolkata. They were mostly Cantonese tradesmen and sailors, bringing with them aji-no-moto (monosodium glutamate) and sweet corn. The cuisine is characterized as much by what is missing - mushrooms, for instance, are not found in Bengal - as by what is there, such as a far greater use of pork than any of the other cuisines. As the Chinese opened restaurants for Bengalis, they spiced up the bland Cantonese sauces with sliced chillies and hot sauces, creating unique dishes such as Chicken sweet corn soup, Chinese fried rice, Chowmein (noodles), Chilli Chicken and Manchurian dishes

Indian Chinese food was given a second boost when a large number of Tibetans migrated into Indian Territory, when China annexed Tibet. Tibetans brought with them their own delicacies to add to this genre, such as the very popular momo (a kind of dumpling) or thukpa (a hearty noodle soup). Tibetans and Nepali immigrants also found ready employment in kitchens as 'Chinese' cooks because of their looks, and helped power the millions of eateries that serve this unique fusion on every street in Kolkata.

Bangladesh also hosts a large number of Chinese restaurants. In Dhaka, the phrase Chainiz khaoa (literally 'to eat Chinese food') often simply means 'to eat out (at a restaurant)', as Chinese cuisine was the first widely-available food in Dhaka eateries. As with Indian Chinese food, Chinese food in Bangladesh has evolved much from its Cantonese roots, with greater usage of chili and other spices native to Bengal.

The influence of this unique cuisine cannot be overstated; it's available in every town in India and Bangladesh as Chinese food. Bengali immigrants to other countries have started carrying this abroad as well; Indian Chinese restaurants have appeared in many places in the United States.

Bengali Meals

 

The typical Bengali fare includes a certain sequence of food - somewhat like the courses of Western dining. Two sequences are commonly followed, one for ceremonial dinners such as a wedding and the day-to-day sequence. Both sequences have regional variations, and sometimes there are significant differences in a particular course between West Bengal and Bangladesh.

At home, Bengalis typically eat without the use of dining utensils; kaţa (forks), chamoch

 

(spoons), and chhuri (knives) are used in the preparation of food, but will almost certainly not be used to eat one's own food, except in some urban areas. Most Bengalis eat with their right hand, mashing small portions of meat and vegetable dishes with rice and in some cases, lentils. In rural areas, Bengalis traditionally eat on the ground with a large banana or plantain leaf serving as the plate or plates made from sal leaves sown together and dried.

The elaborate dining habits of the Bengalis were a reflection of the attention the Bengali housewife paid to the kitchen. In modern times, thanks to Western influence, this is rarely followed anymore. Courses are frequently skipped or combined with everyday meals. Meals were usually served course by course to the diners by the youngest housewives, but increasing influence of nuclear families and urbanization has replaced this. It is now common to place everything on platters in the centre of the table, and each diner serves him/herself. Ceremonial occasions such as weddings used to have elaborate serving rituals, but professional catering and buffet-style dining is now commonplace. The traditions are far from dead, though; large family occasions and the more lavish ceremonial feasts still make sure that these rituals are observed.

Courses In A Daily Meal
The foods of a daily meal are usually simpler, geared to balanced nutrition and makes extensive use of vegetables. The courses progress broadly from lighter to richer and heavier. Rice remains common throughout the meal until the chaţni (chutney) course.

The starting course is a bitter. The bitter changes with the season but common ones are kôrolla (bitter gourd) which is available nearly throughout the year, or tender nim leaves in spring. Bitters are mostly deep fried in oil, or steamed with cubed potatoes. Portions are usually very small - a spoonful or so to be had with rice - and this course is considered to be both a palate-cleanser and of great medicinal value.

Another bittersweet preparation usually eaten in summer, especially in West Bengal, is a soupy mixture of vegetables in a ginger-mustard sauce, called shukto. This usually follows the dry bitters, but sometimes replaces it, and is eaten in much bigger portions. Shukto is a complex dish, a fine balance of many different kinds of tastes and textures and is often a critical measure of a Bengali housewife's abilities in the kitchen. However, shukto is not popular in Bangladesh.

This is followed by shak (leafy vegetables) such as spinach, palong chard, methi fenugreek, or amaranth. The shak can be steamed or cooked in oil with other vegetables such as begun (eggplant). Steamed shak is sometimes accompanied by a sharp paste of mustard and raw mango pulp called Kasundi.

The đal course is usually the most substantial course, especially in West Bengal. It is eaten with a generous portion of rice and a number of accompaniments. In Bangladesh, đal is usually eaten with the fish and meat courses, while in West Bengal it is eaten somewhat beforehand.

A common accompaniment to đal is bhaja (fritters). Bhaja literally means 'deep-fried'; most vegetables are good candidates but begun (aubergines), kumra (pumpkins), or alu (potatoes) are common. Machh bhaja (fried fish) is also common, especially rui (rohu) and ilish (hilsa) fishes. Bhaja is sometimes coated in a beshon (chickpea flour) and posto (poppyseed) batter. A close cousin of bhaja is bôra or deep-fried savoury balls usually made from posto (poppyseed) paste or coconut mince. Another variant is fried pointed gourd as potoler dorma with roe stuffing.

Another accompaniment is a vegetable preparation usually made of multiple vegetables stewed slowly together without any added water. Labra, chorchori, ghonto, or chanchra are all traditional cooking styles. There also are a host of other preparations that do not come under any of these categories and are simply called tôrkari - the word merely means 'vegetable' in Bengali. Sometimes these preparations may have spare pieces of fish such as bits of the head or gills, or spare portions of meat. A charchari is a vegetable dish that is cooked without stirring, just to the point of charring.

The next course is the fish course. Common fish delicacies include machher jhol, tel koi, pabda machher jhal, Doi machh, Chingri machh (shrimp) malai curry, and bhapa ilish (steamed hilsa).

Then comes the meat course. The divide among the Bengalis of Bangladesh and West Bengal is most evident when it comes to the meat course. Meat is readily consumed in urban parts of Bangladesh and some consider it the meal's main course. Khashi mutton or goat meat is traditionally the meat of choice, especially West Bengal, but murgi chicken and đim eggs are also commonly consumed. At the time of Partition, it was rare for caste Hindus to eat chicken or even eggs from hens, choosing rather, duck eggs if eggs were to be consumed. Although it is debatable as to whether chicken is more popular than khashi in West Bengal today, the proliferation of poulty farms and hatcheries makes chicken the cheaper alternative. Beef is popular in Bangladesh, and has become popular amongst many non-muslims in West Bengal ever since rise of communism.

Next comes the chutney course, which is typically tangy and sweet; the chutney is usually made of am mangoes, tomatoes, anarôsh pineapple, tetul tamarind, pepe papaya, or just a combination of fruits and dry fruits. In Bangladesh, chutney is usually eaten during the đal course and no separate course is dedicated to chutney. Papoŗ(papadum), a type of wafer, thin and flaky, is often made of đal or potatoes or shabu (tapioca) and is a usual accompaniment to the chutneys.

The last item before the sweets is Doi or yoghurt.It is generally of two varieties, either natural flavour and taste or Mishti Doi - sweet yoghurt, typically sweetened with charred sugar. This brings about a brown colour and a distincnt flavour. Like the fish or sweets mishti doi is typically identified with Bengali cuisine. 

Mishţi (Sweets)

 

Sweets occupy an important place in the diet of Bengalis and at their social ceremonies. It is an ancient custom among Hindus to distribute sweets during festivities. The confectionery industry has flourished because of its close association with social and religious ceremonies. Competition and changing tastes have helped to create many new sweets, and today this industry has grown within the country as well as all over the world.

The sweets of Bengal are generally made of sweetened cottage cheese (chhena), khoa (reduced solidified milk), or flours of different

 

cereals and pulses. Some important sweets of Bengal are:

Shôndesh
Made from sweetened, finely ground fresh chhena (cheese), shôndesh in all its variants is among the most popular Bengali sweets. The basic shôndesh has been considerably enhanced by the many famous confectioners of Bengal, and now a few hundred different varieties exist, from the simple kachagolla to the complicated abar khabo, jôlbhôra or indrani. Another variant is the kôrapak or hard mixture, which blends rice flour with the paneer to form a shell-like dough that last much longer.

Rôshogolla
Rôshogolla is one of the most widely consumed sweets. The basic version has many regional variations.

Pantua
Pantua is somewhat similar to the rôshogolla, except that the balls are fried in either tel (oil) or ghi (clarified butter) until golden or deep brown before being put in syrup.

Chômchôm
Chômchôm (especially from Porabari, Tangail District in Bangladesh) goes back about 150 years. The modern version of this sweet was inspired by Raja Ramgore of Ballia district in Uttar Pradesh in India. It was then further modernised by his grandson, Matilal Gore. This oval-shaped sweet is reddish brown in colour and it is of a denser texture than the rôshogolla. It can also be preserved longer. Granules of maoa or dried milk can also be sprinkled over chômchôm.

Several varieties of yoghurts such as mishţi doi, custards, and rice pudding (khir or firni) are also popular in both Bangladesh and West Bengal.

Shôndesh, chhanar jilepi, kalo jam, darbesh, raghobshai, paesh, nalengurer shôndesh, shor bhaja and an innumerable variety are just a few examples of sweets in Bengali cuisine

Piţha or Pithe

 
In both Bangladesh and West Bengal, the tradition of making cakes, locally known as piţha, still flourishes. They are usually made from rice or wheat flour mixed with sugar, jaggery, grated coconut etc. Piţhas are usually enjoyed with the sweet syrups of khejurer gur (date tree molasses). They're usually fried or steamed; the most common forms of these cakes include bhapa piţha (steamed), pakan piţha (fried), and puli piţha (dumplings), among others. The other common pithas are chandrapuli, gokul, pati sapta, chitai piţha, muger puli and dudh puli. The  

Pati Sapta variety is basically a thin-layered rice-flour pancake turnover with a milk-custard creme-filling. In urban areas of Bangladesh and West Bengal most restaurants hold Pitha-festivals sometime during the winter months.

The celebration of the Piţha as a traditional sweet coincides with the Winter Harvest festival in rural Bangladesh and West Bengal. The harvest is known as 'Nabanno' -- (literally 'new sustenance') and calls for not only rare luxuries celebrating food and sweets but also other popular and festive cultural activities like Public Dramas at night and Open Air Dance Performances.

Snacks

Muŗi

 

Muŗi (puffed rice) is made by heating sand in a pot, and then throwing in grains of rice. The rice can have been washed in brine to provide seasoning. The rice puffs up and is separated from the sand by a strainer. Muŗi is very popular and is used in a wide variety of secular and religious occasions, or even just munched plain.

A variant of muŗi is khoi, which is flattened puffed rice. Both varieties are used to make many different snack foods.

Jhal-Muŗi

 

One of the most popular and iconic snack foods of Bengal, jhal literally means 'hot' or 'spicy'. Jhal-muŗi is puffed rice with spices, vegetables and raw mustard oil. Depending on what is added, there are many kinds of jhal-muŗi but the most common is a bhôrta made of chopped onion, jira roasted ground cumin, bitnoon black salt lôngka / morich chilis (either kacha 'ripe' or shukna 'dried'), mustard oil, and dhone pata (fresh coriander leaves).

Moa
A moa is made by taking muri with gur (jaggery) as a binder and forming it into a ball. Another popular kind of moa is Joynagorer moa, a moa particularly made in Joynagor from a district of West Bengal which uses khoi and a sugar-milk-spices mixture as binder.

Glossary
adapted from content by Sutapa Ray

Ambal: A sour dish made either with several vegetables or with fish, the sourness being produced by the addition of tamarind pulp.

Biryani: Fragrant dish of long-grained aromatic rice combined with beef, mutton, or chicken and a mixture of characteristic spices. Sometimes cooked in sealed containers (dum biriyani).

Bhaja or Bhaji: Anything fried, either by itself or in batter.

Bhapa: Fish or vegetables steamed with oil and spices. A classic steaming technique is to wrap the fish in banana leaf to give it a faint musky, smoky scent.

Bhate: ('steamed with rice') Any vegetable, such as potatoes, beans, pumpkins, or even dal, first boiled whole and then mashed and seasoned with mustard oil or ghee and spices. Traditionally the vegetables were placed on top of the rice; they steamed as the rice was being boiled.

Bhôrta: Any vegetable, fish, or shrimp boiled and coarsely mashed, mixed with spices, mustard oil, and onions.

Bhuna: A term of Urdu origin, and applies to meat cooked in spices for a long time without water. The spices are slow-cooked in oil (bhunno). The spices first absorb the oil, and when fully cooked release the oil again.

Bora: See Kofta

Chacchari: Usually a vegetable dish with one or more varieties of vegetables cut into longish strips, sometimes with the stalks of leafy greens added, all lightly seasoned with spices like mustard or poppy seeds and flavoured with a phoron. The skin and bone of large fish like bhetki or chitol can be made into a chachchari called kanta-chachchari, kanta, meaning fish-bone.

Chhanchra: A combination dish made with different vegetables, portions of fish head and fish oil (entrails).

Chechki: Tiny pieces of one or more vegetable - or, sometimes even the peels (of potatoes, lau, pumpkin or patol for example) - usually flavored with panch phoron or whole mustard seeds or kala jeera. Chopped onion and garlic can also be used, but hardly any ground spices.

Dalna: Mixed vegetables or eggs, cooked in medium thick gravy seasoned with ground spices, especially garom mashla and a touch of ghee.

Dam or Dum: Vegetables (especially potatoes), meat or rice (biriyanis) cooked slowly in a sealed pot over a low heat.

Ghonto: Different complementary vegetables (e.g., cabbage, green peas, potatoes or banana blossom, coconut, chickpeas) are chopped or finely grated and cooked with both a phoron and ground spices. Dried pellets of dal (boris) are often added to the ghanto. Ghee is commonly added at the end. Non-vegetarian ghantos are also made, with fish or fish heads added to vegetables. The famous murighanto is made with fish heads cooked in a fine variety of rice. Some ghantos are very dry while others a thick and juicy.

Jhal: Literally, 'hot'. A great favorite in West Bengali households, this is made with fish or shrimp or crab, first lightly fried and then cooked in a light sauce of ground red chilli or ground mustard and a flavoring of pãch-phoron or kala jira. Being dryish it is often eaten with a little bit of dal pored over the rice.

Jhol: A light fish or vegetable stew seasoned with ground spices like ginger, cumin, coriander, chili, and turmeric with pieces of fish and longitudinal slices of vegetables floating in it. The gravy is thin yet extremely flavorful. Whole green chilis are usually added at the end and green coriander leaves are used to season for extra taste. This term is also used to refer to any type of stew in meat, fish or vegetable dishes.

Kalia: A very rich preparation of fish, meat or vegetables using a lot of oil and ghee with a sauce usually based on ground ginger and onion paste and garom mashla.

Khichuŗi: Rice mixed with vegetables and in some cases, boiled eggs. Usually cooked with spices and turmeric powder.

Kofta: Ground meat or vegetable croquettes bound together by spices and/or eggs served alone or in savory gravy.

Korma: Another term of Urdu origin (literally 'braised with onions), meaning meat or chicken cooked in a mild onion and yoghurt sauce with ghee.

Luchi: Small round unleavened bread fried in oil.

Pôroţa: Bread made from wheat flour and fried in the oven until golden-brown.

Paturi: Typically fish, seasoned with spices (usually shorshe) wrapped in banana leaves and steamed or roasted over a charcoal fire.

Polau (See Pilaf): Fragrant dish of rice with ghee, spices and small pieces of vegetables. Long grained aromatic rice is usually used, but some aromatic short grained versions such as Kalijira or Gobindobhog may also be used.

Pora: The word literally means charred. Vegetables are wrapped in banana leaves and roasted over a wood, charcoal or coal fire. Some vegetables with skin such as begun, are put directly on the flame or coals. The roasted vegetable is then mixed with onions, oil and spices.

Ruţi: Unleaved bread made in a tawa and puffed over an open flame.

Tôrkari: A general term often used in Bengal the way `curry' is used in English (it is speculated to be one of the origins of curry). Originally from Persian, the word first meant uncooked garden vegetables. From this it was a natural extension to mean cooked vegetables or even fish and vegetables cooked together

 

 
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